The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released an 88-page report that claims better collaboration is needed among the four federal agencies overseeing live animal imports to reduce the risk of animal-related diseases coming into the United States. According to GAO, more than 1 billion live animals were imported into America from 2005 through 2008, but “gaps” in the statutory and regulatory framework could allow animal and zoonotic diseases to “emerge anywhere and spread rapidly.”

GAO reviewed statutes, visited ports of entry and surveyed the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection. The experts cited by the report identified several barriers to agency collaboration, “such as different program priorities and unclear roles and responsibilities.” GAO also found that “because each of the agencies is focused on a different aspect of live animal imports, no single entity has comprehensive responsibility for the zoonotic and animal disease risks posed by live animal imports.”

GAO recommended that the agencies “develop a strategy to address barriers to agency collaboration that may allow potentially risky imported animals into the United States and jointly determine data needs to effectively oversee imported animals.”